Ai Yori Aoshi

Japanese Title: Bluer than Indigo
Also Known As: AYA
Genre: Romance
Format: 24 Episodes
Allegiance: J.C. Staff/Pioneer
Director: Shimoda Masami
Vintage: 2002
Intelligence Agency Report by: Lady Sage
Hanabishi Kaoru is your typical Japanese college student. One day on the way home, he encounters a girl in a kimono with a broken sandal in the train station. Being the nice guy he is, he fixes her shoe and helps her find her way to the place she was looking for, which happens to be in his neighborhood. But when the address holds nothing but a vacant lot, the girl shows Kaoru a picture of the one she’s looking for, a little boy he recognizes as himself many years ago. He realizes that the girl is Sakuraba Aoi, a friend of his from a long time ago. As it turns out, she is actually his fiancée and ran away from home to be with him. But she’s a reminder of an ugly past Kaoru would rather forget. What will he do with this beautiful, but naïve girl?

Field Agent Report by: Lady Sage 
Overall 8.25
(not an average)
When I started Ai Yori Aoshi, I wasn’t expecting much. Like so many of the more discerning fans, I had grown disillusioned with shonen romance: the stock characters, the fan service, and the comedic misunderstandings. I wasn’t expecting this one to be any different. 

But after a few episodes, I was positive I had a winner on my hands. Kaoru is not your stereotypical shounen lead, but rather was the complete opposite: intelligent and capable, motivated and given depth by a truly painful past. Aoi isn’t violent or too stubborn to admit her feelings, but is actually very devoted to Kaoru while managing to avoid being a complete Stepford wife most of the time, with the occasional lapse. But what really makes it special is their relationship. They love each other. It’s obvious from everything down to the way they smile at each other. Just watching them get to know each other and care for each other seems to be a rewarding experience in and of itself. 

And then comes Tina Foster. Soon the floodgates are open, and in flow annoying, one-dimensional side characters that serve no purpose other than to provide fan service, comedic misunderstandings, and just in general get in the way of Aoi and Kaoru’s romance. That’s right, folks. Ai Yori Aoshi quickly went from something truly special to your usual cliché harem romance, and it’s a crying shame. Occasionally the show does go back to its roots and further develops the growing bond between the two protagonists, but it’s far too rare for it to be satisfying. Nevertheless, in the end the show does get its priorities straight and comes up with a satisfying conclusion to what the viewers really do care about. 

Technically, I’ve got no complaints. The art and animation in Ai Yori Aoshi is completely up to modern-day standards, with bright colors, smooth animation, and beautiful character designs. It’s just a pity the characters・personalities aren’t as attractive as their designs. Similarly, the music is absolutely gorgeous and always a pleasure to hear, especially Ishida Yoko’s gorgeous opening theme song “Towa no Hana.” The voice acting is rarely actually bad… but at times you may be tempted to murder Taeko because of how horrid her voice sounds, if nothing else. 

Ai Yori Aoshi starts off strong, drops suddenly into a black pit of fan service and hackneyed shonen romance, and manages to redeem itself by climbing back out in the very end. Some viewers may be tempted to give up on it midway through; I only continued for the sake of reviewing. But in the end, it’s worth sticking through it and the ending is ultimately rewarding.